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Regulation of honey bee division of labor by colony age demography

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The age at which worker honey bees begin foraging varies under different colony conditions. Previous studies have shown that juvenile hormone (JH) mediates this behavioral plasticity, and that worker-worker interactions influence both JH titers and age at first foraging. These results also indicated that the age at first foraging is delayed in the presence of foragers, suggesting that colony age demography directly influences temporal division of labor. We tested this hypothesis by determining whether behavioral or physiological development can be accelerated, delayed, or reversed by altering colony age structure. In three out of three trials, earlier onset of foraging was induced in colonies depleted of foragers compared to colonies depleted of an equal number of bees across all age classes. In two out of three trials, delayed onset of foraging was induced in colonies in which foragers were confined compared to colonies with free-flying foragers. Finally, in three out of three trials, both endocrine and exocrine changes associated with reversion from foraging to brood care were induced in colonies composed of all old bees and devoid of brood; JH titers decreased and hypopharyngeal glands regenerated. These results demonstrate that plasticity in age-related division of labor in honey bee colonies is at least partially controlled by social factors. The implications of these results are discussed for the recently developed ‘‘activator-inhibitor” model for honey bee behavioral development.

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Received: 8 November 1995/Accepted after revision: 10 May 1996

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Huang, ZY., Robinson, G. Regulation of honey bee division of labor by colony age demography. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 39, 147–158 (1996).

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